“…vigor, forgiveness, fortitude, cleanliness, freedom from envy and the passion for honor - these transcendental qualities, O son of Bharata, belong to godly men endowed with divine nature.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 16.3)
One way to determine which way of life is better is to test for the effect on the level of envy. That which increases envy would have to be considered inferior to that which doesn’t. Better still if you can decrease envy, and this is most certainly possible. The requirement is that one know the self, for without this knowledge there is doubt at every turn.
Why does doubt result from not knowing who we are?
If we don’t know our real identity, then we will think that others are in a superior position. Seeing them will stir up envy. We won’t realize that the source of identity is the same with them as it is with us. Moreover, their apparently superior position is only a relative and temporary distinction; it is not permanent. Though in ignorance we constantly doubt ourselves, we are never eternally inferior and someone else is never eternally superior.
If you really think about it, there is no reason to envy someone else. Perhaps they have millions of dollars in the bank and they don’t have to worry about landing the most beautiful partner for conjugal relations. This doesn’t mean that their life is worry-free. They still hanker after things, and they still feel the sting of defeat when they fail. If I am able to eat to my heart’s content, why should I worry that someone else has more money? If someone is apparently more knowledgeable than me, should I not be thankful to have them around? After all, if they are disseminating valuable information, the rest of society is benefited from their high level of knowledge.
Can a system of maintenance increase envy?
The materialist’s dream is to eat, sleep, mate and defend without restriction. Eat whatever meat is available, gamble as much as possible, have intoxicants without limit, and then enjoy sex life. If there is an unplanned pregnancy, you kill the child in the womb. If there are diseases, you get others to pay for your medical treatment. If the doctor makes a mistake in treatment, you sue him for everything he’s worth. If innocent animals are killed to satisfy the tongue, then so what? If you lose your mind constantly worrying about gaining a financial edge, what’s the harm? You have to do something, don’t you? Would you rather everyone be bored all the time?
These are the base animal activities, and ironically enough in the animals they don’t lead to envy. The animals aren’t knowledgeable enough to feel threatened by another animal’s accumulated gains. And neither are the animals consumed by fear over not having enough food. The human being is not so fortunate. The more one follows the path of fruitive activity without restriction, the more they envy others. In the modern industrialized world economy, the standard of living is much higher than it was only one hundred years ago. And yet with all of the accumulated gains in economics, envy rules the world. The press follows the opulent to either praise them or criticize them. If a wealthy person complains about having to pay more taxes, others will make fun of them. “What are they so worried about? They won’t be able to buy that extra yacht now? Who cares? Big deal; they should be fine with paying more. I don’t care if they have to give seventy-five percent of their salary over to the government; they have nothing to complain about.”
Envy as a tool of argument has no validity. If the same news media that salivates at the downfall of a famous athlete were to have their own shortcomings revealed to the whole world, they wouldn’t know how to handle it. The envious would never stand for someone taking three-fourths of their earnings every year, but they have no problem when it is done to someone else. The attitude is akin to watching your neighbor’s house get robbed and taking joy from it. When the neighbor complains about what happened, you tell them that they shouldn’t worry so much. The theft itself is not addressed, as envy removes all sound logic and reasoning from the brain.
If material progress increases envy, then perhaps material destitution decreases it? The problem, of course, is that no one will voluntarily give up their stuff if others are not going to follow suit. If you force the destitution, then there are still those who are exempted. This is what happens under collectivist states of totalitarian rule, where every citizen is ostensibly equally oppressed and miserable. The state, however, makes the rules, so they exempt themselves from the strict laws they impose on the rest of society. There is still envy, as those who work hard envy those who don’t. There is also envy of the people in power, for they don’t have to live by the same rules.
If we learn about the self, we learn about everyone else. In the process, envy naturally decreases. The negative emotion turns into compassion. In the Vedas we get the most concrete information about the self. The self is the spirit soul, or atma. It is eternal, blissful and full of knowledge. The rise of envy gives indication that the knowledge is covered up. Envy is a sign of ignorance, whereas universal compassion equates to real knowledge.
Every living entity, not just the human being, is a spirit soul. The differences we see are merely different compositions of the material elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether. The differences internal to each person are the makeups of mind, intelligence and ego. The soul is not affected by the external covering. The covering may change to the point that it is completely destroyed, but the soul always stays intact.
“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.20)
There are different ways to learn the soul, or to become self-realized, and one of the ways involves fruitive activity with the results renounced for a higher purpose. Think of it like earning a million dollars in salary and living off of only a tenth of that. The rest is given away to worthy recipients. This path is known as karma-yoga, and based on the tendency for envy it is difficult to follow with full faith. Another path is jnana-yoga, where one stays renounced and studies the difference between matter and spirit with their freed up time. This is also difficult to practice in this age, for who wants to renounce things when so many things are readily available?
The easiest and most effective path is bhakti-yoga. Those who follow it get complete information about the soul. The soul is the identifying agent within each life form, and part of its inherent properties is its link to the Supreme Soul. The link reveals the similarities, and the link also indicates an ideal relationship. The individual is meant to serve the Supreme. The service must be voluntary for it to be constitutional. Forced service won’t work for too long. We can force our kids to do their homework, but it doesn’t mean that they will learn. Unless they voluntarily follow through on their obligations relating to school, they will never get anywhere.
In bhakti-yoga, I serve God through nine different methods. Hearing and chanting are the superior methods, and they can be practiced by anyone at any time. The hearing relates to God and information about Him. Chanting relates to repeating mantras that glorify Him, such as the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”
“Seems a little too easy to say that bhakti-yoga gives me knowledge of myself and thus decreases my envy. How can chanting a mantra over and over again bring such wonderful things?”
Think about it. If you’re serving God all the time, what need do you have to be envious? Rather, if you are still envious of someone, it will be related to that person’s ability to serve God. And in that envy, rather than trying to tear that person down, you will try to reach their standard, honoring their hard work in the process. In material attachment, I am jealous of what everyone has and therefore I try to always put them down, which will make me feel better and less doubtful of myself. In pure bhakti-yoga, the same envy is spiritualized, and so I try to praise everyone else because I think that they are better at serving God than I am.
The best servant in the world thinks this way. She is the best because she is always by God’s side. He loves her the most, and she never stops thinking of Him. And yet when she sees someone else engaged in His service, she recommends that person to Him. Following bhakti-yoga earns her favor as well as His. Since no one is better than Radha and Krishna, nothing is better than devotional service to them.
A path of perfection one tries,
But only to envy it gives rise.
By following a genuine path,
Should decrease envy and wrath.
Not knowing myself always to doubt,
Will envy others, to think that I am without.
From bhakti-yoga real identity find,
Learn that coverings are ego and mind.
From envy to appreciation go,
And Radha to tell Krishna know.